Terry’s Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 CD

Terry’s Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 CD

It was the final car I drove when I spent an afternoon at the Vauxhall Heritage Centre in Luton.

If you had asked me to pick a favourite car before I went, it would be fair to say that the Cavalier wouldn’t have featured highly on the list. But against all the odds, it was the MK2 Cavalier that stole my heart. After the retro fun of the Chevette and the raw brilliance of the Astra GTE, this seemed unlikely. But then, this is PetrolBlog.

Perhaps it’s the fact that in 2.0 CD spec, this particular Cavalier would have been the envy of the Happy Eater car park. The CD badge was a sign that its owner was a man on the up. His name was Terry and he was a sales god. Having consistently outsold Norman and Frank, he had been rewarded with a Cavalier 2.0 CD. Norman and Frank could only look on with wonder from the wheel of their 1.6 GL.

Headlight wipers - Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 CDBased on my brief encounter with the Cavalier, Terry had a lot to be thankful for. Not for him the trauma and ignominy associated with poverty-spec motoring. His headlights were kept clean by little wipers that made Terry feel like he was at the helm of a large German or Swedish luxury saloon. His front fog lights gave the impression that he was on a special stage on the RAC Rally and he’d use them as he trundled up the middle lane of the M1 motorway.

All the while his bottom would be cosseted by one of the most comfortable driver’s seats from the 1980s, thus ensuring that Terry would arrive for a sales meeting in Leeds relaxed and ready to sell. Whilst life as a top salesman was good, Terry had his eye on a management job and the Carlton CD that went with it. And more sales took Terry further up that ladder and ever closer to the Carlton.

At the weekend, in an effort to impress the neighbours, Terry would lovingly wash and wax his Cavalier, making sure the alloys were suitably sparkling. Ever since Ken across the road had arrived home in ‘der neue’ Audi 90, Terry had to work hard so much harder. Vorsprung durch green with envy.

Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 CD 3-speed gearboxOf course, Terry was fortunate enough to be given a car as part of his job, meaning he didn’t pay the £12,000 price tag. But he revelled in the fact that his car was worth considerably more than his neighbours ageing Ford Escort. He also didn’t mind that the automatic ‘box made the 2.0-litre Cavalier feel a tiny bit sluggish. In relaxed mode, the Cavalier was a supremely comfortable tourer. He’d often see mpg figures in the low 30s too.

Fast forward the best part of three decades and Terry has long since retired and is happily seeing out his days in a bungalow in Walton on the Naze. He fondly remembers his old Cavalier and the 90,000 miles he did on the motorways and A-roads of Britain. Today he drives a Vauxhall Agila. Once a Griffin man, always a Griffin man.

It’s funny, I’ve never really given the Vauxhall Cavalier much attention. I was too young for the MK1 to really register and the MK2 was so ubiquitous and common, I must have given up looking at it. The MK3 has never held any appeal whatsoever. So it was rather enlightening to spend half an hour in the company of such a well maintained and immaculate MK2 Cavalier.

Rear of 1987 Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 CDYou need to remember that in 1987 the MK2 really was in the twilight of its existence. Its chief rival, the Ford Sierra was fresh from a facelift and trouncing the Cavalier in the sales chart. Its days as one of Britain’s biggest selling cars were over. And yet it still sold over three quarters of a million cars in its time.

It was very much the Cavalier of the 1980s and would be replaced by the MK3 within a year or two. At the time, Car magazine, although lavishing praise on the Cavalier for its reliability and strong motorway manners had already written it off as ‘past it now’. Driving one today, I find that hard to believe. Did the MK3 actually move the Cavalier on? Is hindsight a wonderful thing – a real case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proclaiming the MK2 Cavalier to be a bastion of premium quality motoring. But in CD spec at least, it has aged wonderfully. The timeless colour combined with the chrome detailing, tasteful alloys and front fogs manage to make the Cavalier seem more contemporary than its age would suggest. What’s more, it has an overwhelming smell of an ‘80s minicab. If only PetrolBlog was delivered in smell-o-vision as it’s hard to describe. It’s not a particularly nasty smell but it has the feel of an air freshener that has been used to mask the stench of something more sinister. In an instant it takes you back to the 1980s. That’s magic, as Paul Daniels may have said.

1987 Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 CD at the Vauxhall Heritage CentreIt’s not particularly quick either, with the 3-speed automatic transmission doing its best to dilute what little power is on offer. But for ‘one hand on the wheel, one elbow on the window’ cruising, it’s just about perfect. That is, once you get past the rather loud engine and excessive road noise. But for a premium-spec blue collar hatchback, the Cavalier is wonderfully authentic.

Time is running out for the MK2 Cavalier. Not only was it one of the most stolen cars of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but many suffered from catastrophic tin worm that made them uneconomical to keep going. A car that Bangernomics never really got a chance to embrace. Go straight to scrap, do not pass go and do not collect loving owner on your way through. Given my brief drive with the former hero of suburbia, this is a great shame.

I’ll leave you with the ‘classic’ television ad from the 1980s. It stars Martin Shaw lying through his teeth and taking the long way home. Martin Shaw a liar? Well I guess these were the days before Judge John Deed.

 


Written by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

The chief waffler and person responsible for getting PetrolBlog off the ground in February 2010. Has a deep fascination of cars from the '80s and '90s, especially if they originate from France. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

14 Comments

      1. Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

        Good good!

        Also, really into Capris again at the moment. A nagging part of me actually thinks the Mk3 is genuinely one of the best-looking British cars ever. That’s if we can claim it as a British car… if not, it still has to rank as one of the best-looking Fords ever. Up there with Mustang, GT40, FRP etc…

  1. chrischasescars

    How was the Cavalier regarded in the UK/Europe when it was new? We got this car as a Chevrolet (and the Pontiac Sunbird, and a few other GM variants), and while it was popular, it wasn’t thought of very highly. Mushy handling, not-great reliability…

  2. gordon

    ????? what!……… I can’t believe what I’m reading, I had one that was brilliant so good that I regretted selling it after being offered a mint BMW 525e.
    My old Cav was a flying machine although it was a manual, it stuck to the road like it was glued there it had wider/lower tyres. all the electrics windows and roof, and cruised at high speed all day, never had a spot of trouble with it.
    I even towed a trailer with 2 ton’s of gravel..once…stopping it was quite scarey!
    I looked for another but think they have all retired to the scrapyard in the sky?
    it cost £80 and I sold it for £350
    rust in peace my faithful old cavalier

  3. Graeme Thomas

    i agree,with Gordon,for the ordinary Joe Public,what you have to remember the Cavalier CD was still an asperational car,even in the early ’90’s., i remember ‘Trading up’ from my red D-reg escort 1.3L,around 1991 i think,{which was like Josephs Amazing technicolour coat under street light} for a Cavalier SRI,which i think looked a million Dollars in white.!!! my wife hated it,it drove like the proverbial bag of spanners,what fun those days were.!!!

  4. Joseph

    Cavalier SRi, please! Or the CD, as featured above. Although I probably lean towards being a Ford guy, eighties Vauxhalls really were something which appeals to me. Nova saloon, Cavalier convertible, and does anyone remember the Belmont CD?

    Great article again.

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